EAST BRIDGEWATER - Casey DeAndrade had every reason to sink into his own sadness.
He was in a funeral home. Again. Mourning a lost loved one. Again.
Three years ago it was his mother, Mariellen DeAndrade. Last month it was his grandmother, Dolores Meaney.
In a span so short and at an age so young, he had lost the two women he had been closest to. He wouldn’t allow himself to wear the hurt on his face, though. Too many people were there, their hearts as heavy as his, for Casey’s grandmother and also for Casey.
“How I dealt with it was helping everyone else,’’ he said. “I felt better by helping other people.’’
In a way, he was everyone’s son in East Bridgewater, the boy next door, the star athlete, the National Honor Society vice president. Everyone knew him, so when he went through a tragedy, they all did.
At his grandmother’s service, his baseball coach, Pat Cronin, walked in with his fiancee, Denise Robertson. DeAndrade was the first person at the door to greet them.
He said, “Coach! I didn’t even recognize you without your uniform on.’’
The Vikings’ first game of the Division 3 South baseball tournament was the next day. So was his grandmother’s funeral.
DeAndrade told Cronin, “Coach, I’m going a little crazy with this game tomorrow.’’
He was typically quiet leading up to games. Those two days were different, though.
“He was a little more subdued and quiet than normal,’’ Cronin said.
When it was time to determine who would take the mound, Cronin said it was never a question.
DeAndrade said, “Coach, I’m pitching, right?’’
Cronin said, “Absolutely. If you want it, you’ve got the ball.’’
DeAndrade worked all seven innings - 104 pitches - allowed just one hit, struck out seven, and pushed East Bridgewater to a 5-0 win over Dedham, the first in its run to the Division 3 South title.
Said Cronin, “I know his grandmother would have said, just as his mother would have said to him, ‘Listen, what you do, you go out, and you go on.’ ’’
DeAndrade has overcome the depths of his adversity and posted many triumphs on the field.
In the fall, the running back rushed for 1,178 yards and 23 touchdowns in his third all-star season, putting a bow on a career in which he rushed for 2,973 yards and 63 touchdowns (he also intercepted 10 passes as a safety).
This spring, the center fielder was the South Shore League’s Most Valuable Player, hitting .484 with 25 RBIs and 14 stolen bases, and toying with batters over 49 2/3 innings with 59 strikeouts and a 1.44 ERA. When the Vikings beat Apponequet this month, they earned their first South sectional title since 1993.
DeAndrade earned a football scholarship to the University of New Hampshire, and when he signed his letter of intent in February, he did it alongside East Bridgewater’s best female athlete, soccer player Rachel Blauner, his sweetheart since preschool. (“She’s a better athlete than I am,’’ he said.)
Sunday, he was named the Globe’s Will McDonough Male Athlete of the Year.
But above it all, he’s the product of a tightly knit community of family and friends that all but adopted him as its own.
“The entire community comes out for Casey,’’ Cronin said. “It helped pull him through. The East Bridgewater community has become his family and it’s sustained him.’’
Shock to system
Mariellen DeAndrade was 46 when she died of a heart attack three years ago. She was the kind of mother who was at all of her sons’ games, even if she couldn’t watch them.
“When I was pitching, she couldn’t even be there she was so nervous,’’ Casey said. “She had to walk away.’’
DeAndrade had just started his sophomore year when his mother died. His older brother, Justin, had been at Worcester State for all of a week. The shock spread as fast as the word did.
“You just don’t expect anything like that to happen,’’ Casey said. “It just randomly happened and it just shocked everything. It was just surreal.’’
The football team had a scrimmage scheduled the day of his mother’s wake. His coach, Shawn Tarpey, loaded his teammates into a bus to show support.
“That was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever done as a coach,’’ Tarpey said. “It was a pretty challenging day for me trying to control my own emotions.’’
Almost immediately after Mariellen died, her sister, AnneMarie Meaney, moved in, along with the boys’ father, John DeAndrade.
“I didn’t even think twice,’’ Meaney said. “I rented out my house and I moved right in. It was just the most natural thing to do. Sometimes I thought, ‘What am I doing? I’m living my sister’s life.’ But I knew I was doing the right thing.’’
Before, she was a single woman who liked to travel for vacations. She worked two jobs. She went out with her friends on the weekends. But when her sister died, her lifestyle immediately changed.
“I love my sister so much,’’ she said. “I was suffering so much grief, but the only relief I had was being with the boys and my mom. There was just no question. It was just what I was supposed to do. I knew.’’
She had worked at the middle school, but Casey’s junior year, she became a guidance counselor at the high school. It would have made sense, she figured, if at his age Casey would have been embarrassed. But he was in her office nearly every day. He’d come up to her in the hallway and give her kisses on the cheek. His friends eventually ended up calling her “Auntie’’.
“It brought me so much closer to the boys,’’ she said. “I love them more than you could ever possibly love anyone and I understand that love for a child. Through this experience I really got to learn what that mother-child love is. So I’m really grateful for that.’’
John DeAndrade said, “Of course it was a tough thing to deal with, losing his mom so young. But he had a lot of support. Being the type of kid he was, everybody loved him. He always had a lot of people always there for him.’’
Cronin spent 26 years teaching English at the junior high and high schools before retiring in 2008. He taught Mariellen, AnneMarie, and Justin.
He stayed on Justin about going to college, filling out applications with him over one winter break, not just because of what it meant for him, but what it meant for his younger brother.
“What we want is in four years to see you graduate from college, get your degree, and then do what you want to do,’’ Cronin told Justin. “You’ll be the first in your family, and then what happens is, you open the door for all the kids that come after you.’’
When Casey was a freshman, Denise Robertson was his geometry teacher. Cronin would talk to Robertson about Casey’s potential, and she made sure to focus on his academics.
“You see it,’’ she said. “You see kids who are good athletes that are not good students and they don’t get the opportunities and you just don’t want to see that happen.’’
Robertson could see that Casey liked to joke around, but in a harmless way. He would turn around and talk to the kid behind him. His focus would drift in and out. In terms of grades, he would target “at least a B,’’ said Robertson. She wanted him to push for more.
“I knew he could do better than a B,’’ she said.
She had taught Justin, too, and saw some of the same things.
“So when I saw Casey, just as a teacher you can tell,’’ she said. “You can tell when someone is doing their best or someone is doing well because they have an ability, but that they can do better. I’ve been teaching for a long time. It’s just something you know.’’
She taught Casey again as a junior, this time for honors pre-calculus. He aimed for As and he got them. He was in the National Honor Society by then, and had a 3.5 GPA.
“For a couple years, I didn’t realize how well he was doing,’’ Tarpey joked. “Then when I’m hearing his grades and you’ve got some of the Ivys coming in and taking a look, you’re just saying, ‘Wow.’ ’’
“I tell people I’m the vice president of the National Honor Society, and they look at me funny,’’ Casey said.
Between his grandmother’s death and the day Casey took the mound to pitch in her memory, East Bridgewater held its graduation ceremony.
It was fitting that instead of walking across a stage, DeAndrade and the rest of the Class of 2012 walked across the football field. What was also fitting was that, as a faculty member, AnneMarie was the one who presented Casey with his diploma.
They were both teary-eyed, hugging. Justin watched it unfold, proud to see how far they all had come.
“With everything that we’ve been through and how he always keeps his head high - I’ve never seen a moment when he’s been down,’’ Justin said.
“He used everything bad that he’s been through as motivation. I think he’s amazed a lot of people, including me.
“I couldn’t be more proud of him than I am.’’